Hare-brained schemes for cleaning up space debris have been batted around for some time, but Russia has finally put some money down on a real project. Russia's space corporation, Energia, is going to invest $2 billion to build a space pod to fly around and knock the junk out of orbit and out of our way. Hopefully it will burn up in the atmosphere, or land in the ocean, and not rain down on Chinese villagers.
This pod could help reopen orbits that are currently inaccessible to future spacecraft due to the amount of shredded metal and empty hulls of dead satellites floating around. Using an ion drive, it will gently nudge these useless scraps out of orbit. Energia plans to have completed testing on the pod, which will have a nuclear power core, by 2020, and have it in service no later than three years after. It will have a lifespan of about 15 years, enough time to make a significant dent in our space debris problem.
Energia is also working on developing an "interceptor" spacecraft using similar technology. This craft would be able to derail any incoming comets or other outer-space projectiles that might be hurtling towards Earth, and change their trajectory just enough that they miss us.
it will be done TESTING in 10 years?!?!? testing??? didn't we go from nothing to the MOON in less than ten years?
If it can clean up space junk, it can knock out any other country's working satellites also.
It would be interesting if they recycled the space debris instead of letting it fall back into orbit and melt away. The parts should not be contaminated if they have been in space for several years. I would prefer Nasa to do this though. It would save billions of dollars to reuse old parts.
Instead of building an interceptor build a vacuum on the the space station, or spherical cleanup vacuum that could store up to 500000 ft of scrap metal. It could be made up of a rubberlike substance that uses a reversal vacuum, or a thrust mechanism to move around the orbit of the earth.
"If it can clean up space junk, it can knock out any other country's working satellites also." This thing is going to be rather slow. I am sure it could be shot down rather quickly. Russia is not at ends with any anyone who has the power to put a satellite in orbit so what the point?
@aerosphere "It would save billions of dollars to reuse old parts." your kidding right? think about what you said. We have cellphones that can do more than a 10 year old satellite. do we recycle old anything electronics? no. 1 SINGLE tiny screw has to be inspected about 10000 times to be used in any space craft. How to expect to re-use that? send 10 guys up in space to inspect each part and they just happen to have a hole waiting for some random screw they just found. Should we even talk about the advancing in technology and materials. Spacecraft are not even made of the same materials as they were 5,10,15+ years ago. Stuff like solar panels are are obsolete the minutes they are launched becuase they are getting better all the time. I admire you love of recycling, but its very niave. even on EARTH recycling often costs more than just building a new product. try going to the junk yard and building a "new" car out of all the other parts from non compatible cars. see how well it works and see how many billions of hours longer it took than just starting from scratch.
aersophere - it would be impossible to recycle the material in space and impossible to bring it down to Earth without far more waste than it's worth. What Energia is doing is sensible, practical, and necessary.
The idea is to bring the space debris into the spherical machine (the machine is not connected to The space station) and have it stay in orbit around the earth until a majority of the material is taken in. Then the machine will fall into orbit at a reduced speed by the push of frontward thrusts and the pull of parachutes in the back. It would land near cape canaveral in some kind of spot designated for the reuse of debris. This can work, it just has to be tried.
If you can build a computer with old parts, you can build a spacecraft with old parts.
The metal can be used for other things if it needs to be anyway.
interesting idea aerosphere, however it still is a lot harder then the way you make it seem. There would need to be some sort of method to slow it down before the parachutes could be opened, something a sphere cant do. next is it would have to be enclosed completely in a heat shield (it being a sphere you dont know which way it faces. And would all of this be worth saving a bit of metal, and some microchips... not really, at least not compared to what it would cost to send a ship up there to bring it all down.
If we wanted anything back, the guys in the shuttle would have grabbed it and brought it back with them.
@aerosphere are you serious? how old are you? I am trying to tell you that of the 10000 problems with your idea the most important bottom line is: recycling COST MORE than starting from scratch. We are in no shortage of metal. and why would you want to build an outdated computer?
I could design a sphere with; multi-directional hyper-rapid-thrust capabilities; various accelerometers; some fairly simple computational logic; some rope (I have some special rope in mind) Gotta keep some patents to myself for later!
Rambling... Point is if I don't need the spacecraft to carry people I could make it do some bad azz zhit.
"no. 1 SINGLE tiny screw has to be inspected about 10000 times to be used in any space craft. "
First-- pretty sure that is atleast a slight exageration :) Second-- isn't some/most/nearly-all of that over-inspection because the vehicle has to endure alot of stress to get from the Earth to orbit? Assuming it is some vehicle not designed to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere [let alone leave it again], I'd guess most stuff floating around could be used without alot of concern.
Granted, I'll agree that very little debris would be useful enough to be worth the trouble. The effort to retrofit scavenged solar panels [even ones that might be newer and more advanced than what is on the ISS] probably isn't even worth the time, effort and risk an astronaut will have to take to do a spacewalk and connect it to existing systems.
Perhaps if 3D printing advances to a point where it can take in random metal/plastic objects, melt them down and re-use the materials to create an entirely new item -- then there might be some value in it [ie, the cost to collect the junk very well may be less than the cost to bring up the raw materials]. Further, maybe the process could involve some method for the ISS crew to take the stuff collected that they can't use, package it up in some fashion, and then push it off in a direction and speed where it will burn up in the atmosphere or give it a nudge towards the sun or whereever...
Thoughts from someone in the space industry:
1. Recycling space debris is not practical. Obsolete technology and excessive cost are factors that will always be viewed negatively.
2. Just because you think you can design something and then build it to said specifications, does not mean you should. People are capable of building incredibly ornate, yet utterly useless junk. I mean if I wanted to, I could make a sundial with glow-in-the-dark numbers.
3. As the sphere "vacuums" (I'll get to that) more and more debris, its maneuvering capability will continue to decrease. That metal isn't zero-mass just because it's in freefall.
4. And how do you propose we "suck" items out of the vacuum of space? With a greater magnitude of vacuum???
Seriously, people, think before you post.
The 10 year project, I believe, would cost more or maybe the same as the idea I'm talking about. This is a Russian organization that wants to do this so it might have to cost them more to do it anyway. They may get the parts the need from nasa or the ESA. These groups will probably want a good amount of money for each part they give over.
good point, but I think the size of the scrap metal could vary from the size of a coined dollar to the size of a lamp. Obviously there would be some too tiny to use, but some these sizes are reusable.
In addition to my previous post. This machine could be unmanned like a space satellite.
@inaka_rob. With current methods(and the near future) it is probably not cost effective to reuse space-junk. However, you are wrong about the plenty of metal comment.
The point isn't to reuse a bolt, or even to melt it down and reuse it.. bolts are cheap. Many other metals aren't, and they are in short supply. I believe that is why they're called 'rare earth' metals.
I find the implications of these two particular missions by a wealth strapped nation disturbing. Are we supposed to be building mass driver frames and anchoring equipment at our local tool and die plants and foundries? You know; all those plants nationwide that have half of their machinery doing nothing because they can't afford the employees because there are no supply contracts. Energia is gonna build 'an interceptor' capable of catching up to and defeating the mass and inertia of a COMET enough to nudge it off course? One craft. I anticipate that to mean getting the comet burning at some likely looking spot on the rotating body. Ok; so then that's it? Energia bucks up and comes across with a few billion to try to save the world all on their own and with no backup? Is this what all the world's wealth is doing? Preparing to run?
Wussies. Not only that, they leave and the comet misses, we don't gotta let em come back.
@Meshca rare earth metals are used mostly in common day things like motors. we have WAY WAY MORE than enough for a few (even a few THOUSAND) satellites here and there. The worry with rare earth metals is becuase we need a lot of them for electric cars. we are talking of millions and millions of cars that will need to be made. They are not THAT rare. the earth is a big place.
@rosen380 yes of course it was an exaggeration, but guys who build space craft and satellites don't have a bin filled with parts they can just reach in. "yo I need a 2 inch hex screw" no. Each part is made one by one. They are not inspected by 1000 people, rather they are inspected to the .0001 millimeter. I had a friend whos dad sole job was simply to inspect aerospace parts and verify their measurements, and they had to be PERFECT.
@aerosphere PLEASE think about this. some space junk is FULL SIZED satilites. How big is this ship you are going to build be? Do you have ANY idea what so ever how big some of these satiltes are? Many of them take up the ENTIRE cargo bay of the space shuttle. here is YET another problem with your little dream. Antennas and solar areas. Satellites often spread out their equipment once they are in space. If they are dead they will not be able to reel it back in. Look at the new spy sat just put up there. 300 feet in diameter. You are going to build a sphere and get into space that can SUCK up 300 foot long sats?
"but some these sizes are reusable." explain to me how this works? who is going to sort this stuff out. are we just going to put it all in one big pot and and melt it down. most stuff in space can not be melted down like plastic and solar panels and insulation, etc, etc, etc.
Your idea is like a million times over complicated. The russians have a simple idea. simple ideas have less ways to go wrong. we take rock. we put engine on rock. rock bumps bad stuff. bad stuff goes bye bye. finished!!! your idea would talke 100000 years to work.
That would buy a lot of outerspace roomba's!
Do they sell them yet?
I'm thinking this thing will be great for the Russians to knock ICBM's out as well...how convenient is that?
ICBM travel well above MACH speeds. we can hardly hit them with our own missiles designed to travel even faster. a slow moving ion drive is going to have its work cut out just trying to hit sputnik 1 and 2 out of the sky.
I love reading your quibbles.
THANK YOU RUSSIA! At least someone is doing something about it. Ok maybe it will take longer but how long will it take congress to pony up 2 billion bucks?
BTW The Shuttle could recover old but expensive, satellites right now. I know for a fact. However it is getting older than a lot of the satellites it would recover.
The rest could be burned in the atmosphere or knocked out of orbit or even collected by a big electro magnet and everything would be fine.
recycling it all? lets focus on unblocking the sun first.
Dont be too pessimistic if Richard Branson can fly to space, im sure 2 billion could fund shuttle refurbishments that could accommodate satellite recovery even if it was just to tow the satellite (by shuttle Arm) in or out of orbit or into the ocean to be recovered.
Sounds far fetched, but this is "most" feasible ...
The very same "Pringles" mirrors, which will be used to block excess solar-gamma, may also be (collectively) focused upon individual opjects to smelt and vaporize any particular object.
A large (enough) array of independent-tracking mirrors could prolly vaporize much of the junk, or deplete it's "object-mass" with practical results.
The advantages to vaporization, are many fold and address many of the toughest problems with orbital debris.
** First ... as the object breaks up, most all of the solid mass remains proximate and does not scatter, randomly.
** Also, There is no need to maneuver close to the object or to match it's exact trajectory. A fast moving sat could be vaporized, just a little bit, at a time, whenever it is closest to the traking array.
** There is no need to boost "de-orbiting thrusters" into orbit, or to attach them, directly to the junk.
** All the energy comes from the Sun ... nothing other than the mirrors and their static thrusters need to be boosted from Earth.
** The array can be used for many other purposes, including the smelting of orbital junk (within a crucible) for use as counter-weights and as ingots, for orbital fabrication of modular structurs (trusses, beams, etc.).
GASSIFY THE JUNK !!! (or melt it down, consolidate it, and find uses for it ... on orbit).
The combined mass could be used as a counterweight for a future ELEVATOR ... as a counter-weight for a "BOLO-CABLE" gravity outpost or as a mass-anchor for a sling-shot or for a magnetic escape rail ... or as an "orbital momentum exchange bank".
MUCH MONEY was spent getting all that mass to orbit ... let's get all we can, for ourdecades of mass-boost investments.
And ... sure ... The Russians only intent would be to clean up orbital space !! LoL !!
I sure wish the Russians could just "be one of us".
... wouldn't that solve so much ??
Pootin' is pulling in the wrong direction.
It would be much easier to send a disk or sphere of an aerogel material in an eliptical orbit which intersects large swathes of debris. The paint chips, screws and other small assorted pieces of junk are the most dangerous, and hardest to clean up.
The aerogel will hold the debris in place as it strikes the offending piece, and if the orbital parameters are done right, the entire assembly of aerogel and junk will decay into the atmosphere and reenter in a matter of months to a year or so.
Large objects like the ISS or working satellites should have a similar disk orbiting ahead as a wake shield to absorb oncoming debris, while larger objects like dead satellites can be deorbited by microsatellites attaching themselves to the dead object and applying thrust. This capability has already been demonstrated by the USAF, so we don't have to wait until 2020 or whatever.
Good addition to the concept B.
@cadillac dont take this the wrong way. but have you been living under a rock. The shuttle is NO MORE. there is no refurbishing the shuttles. They have already been sold off to museums.
@BuzzLightYear at least that idea makes sense. but like I said before. The simplest solution is usually the easiest. big stick. hit ball. ball go bye bye.
to melt this stuff would take INSANE amounts of energy and you may just end up with floating balls of metal. some of the orbits are really fast. and what if you zap a working sat for even 1 sec. you would fry it.
aerosphere doesn't have it all wrong. Considering that it costs upwards of $10,000/pound to get something in orbit, space junk could have a lot of value if kept in orbit. It would have to be recycled rather than reused though. That would require an orbiting factory to turn the junk into something useable.
The concept isn't much different than mining on the moon to provide raw materials for the jump to Mars.